Breast cancer is a very serious disease, which is mostly found among women. There are no pre-determined causes for breast cancer; and it usually originates in the milk producing ducts or the glandular tissue (lobules) of the breasts. The common symptoms of this disease are redness of skin over the breasts, newly inverted nipple, nipple blood emission, thickening of a breast part, peeling of the skin on the breast or around the nipples, and such others.
HOW IS BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSED?
A female child of a man with breast cancer who inherits the defective gene has a risk between 40% and 80% of eventually developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the commonest type of cancer affecting women worldwide and is responsible for the highest number of deaths. It is caused when the lactiferous ducts and globules in the breast are affected by carcinoma. Women in advanced countries have greater exposure to breast cancer though their survival rates are more than that of women in developing countries. Hereditary factors, smoking, alcohol consumption, hormone replacement therapy, lack of breastfeeding or having children at a later age and obesity are the major factors causing breast cancer.
Breast cancer has the following symptoms:
• A lump on the breast or lymph nodes in the armpit with a texture differing from regular breast tissue.
•Change in the shape or size of one breast.
• Dimpling of the skin.
• Discharge from the nipple.
•A change in the position, or shape of a nipple.
•Rash on or around a nipple.
• Fever and chills.
•Swelling below the collarbone or armpits.
•Unexplained sudden weight loss.
Breast cancer develops in 4 stages:
• Stage 0: This is the pre-cancer stage when the carcinoma just affects the ducts and lobules.
• Stage 1-3: The cancer is localized within the breast or regional lymph nodes.
• Stage 4: This is the advanced stage when the cancer metastasizes to other parts of the body.
In the early stages, breast cancer can be diagnosed by physical examination by trained medical personnel, mammography and FNAC. Mammogram helps in cancer detection even when the symptoms are invisible. Biopsy is used for conclusive cancer diagnosis.
A patient with breast-cancer requires optimal health-care and psychological support as the treatment is both lengthy and expensive. According to the stage, the oncologists may advise the following courses of treatment:
• Surgery – Generally recommended to treat localized breast cancer, surgery can either be breast conserving which only eliminates the cancer cells, along with neighboring healthy ones as well as mastectomy which involves complete breast removal. Surgery is also used for breast reconstruction and to detect and treat metastases.
• Radiation Therapy – External (beam) Radiation and Internal Radiation are two types of radiation therapy in which high-energy rays are concentrated to kill the cancer cells.
• Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill the fast dividing malignant cells throughout the body. Used before the surgery, they reduce the size of the tumour and when used after, they eliminate the cancer cells which survive the surgery. When the cancer is advanced, i.v. drips, injections and infusions are used to administer chemotherapy.
• Hormone Therapy- Recently developed as a course of cancer treatment, hormone therapy is used to tackle the return of cancer.
• Targeted Therapy - Targeted drugs eliminate the cancer cells throughout the body without harming the other non-malignant fast-growing cells.
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